Sunday, 7 August 2011

It's Lonely At The Top of The Food Chain

Whenever I've felt lonely in my life I've always consoled myself with Quentin Crisp's maxim: 'There's no such thing as loneliness, merely people who do not know how to spend their time alone.' Or masked my condition with my own homespun quip: 'It's lonely at the top of the food chain!'

For the past nearly ten years, I have kept myself so busy that any time alone, let alone time enough to grow lonely has become a luxury. Recently owing to various events in my life, I've finally had enough time to find I seem have joined a zeitgeist of people writing about loneliness and being alone, albeit hopefully not for too long.

In a recent blog hit - 'The Plankton' - a woman writes about 'being at the bottom of the sexual food chain' just because she is over 45, though to my mind having read her blog, she is more likely to be alone because she swears too much and has branded herself into a corner. Notwithstanding, she comes across as no less picky than the average 25 year old, despite her perceived diminished status, as it can't just be any old man she hooks up with but the 'right man'.

Sure there are shallow and immature men in the world, but how many can live up to the pressure and expectations of having to be the 'right man' and fit in with a woman's body clock as well as being just a nice, functional man whom one gets on with?

A young female lawyer, Emily White, has also recently written a book about her years of loneliness where her work life couldn't have been busier in stark contrast to the weekends which seem to rather unfathomably have been a black hole of emptiness for her.

Loneliness and social isolation have for several years been recognised as a state with serious health implications for the elderly who, depending on their level of health, do not always have the same choices and opportunities for getting out and interacting as the younger and healthier, and for whom grown-up children do not always demonstrate the same love and dutifulness as previous generations.

In the next ten years, single-person households which currently make up 30% of all households (or 6.5 million) are set to rise by another 2 million, with the bulk of these made up by females under 35, though elderly single households are also on the rise, an environmental disaster when people can't or won't share resources as well as one leading to all the fallout social isolation can bring.

Watch any episode of 'The Real Filthfighters' and they are stripping out and fumigating at least one house or flat where someone has died on their own and not been found for weeks, whether a drug addict or an elderly person who could no longer manage.

So has anyone in good health and under pensionable age got the right to feel so sorry for themselves in an age where we have never enjoyed more social mobility, more opportunities to try different hobbies, careers and classes, more travel, mobile phones, the internet and all its dating and social networking sites?

If it is merely a matter of learning better social skills and self-presentation, surely there's classes for that too. Or failing that, tutorials we can download from the internet, not to mention all the therapists and life coaches we can shake a stick at?

And do any of us have the right to expect our own exclusive (not to mention perfect) human being to address our loneliness for us, if that is what we are waiting/hoping for? And don't we have to be fit to offer a decent exchange in return rather than a depressed, tranquilised, self-pitying or drunken mess?

All this unhealthy self-absorption has also resulted in a dramatic decline in charity volunteering, one of the very activities said to diminish depression and feelings of isolation, though it is also said that turning our back on faith of any hue is also a major contributory factor, adding to the spiritual 'what's the point?' void within.

Before Princess Diana's tragic death, most of the nation retained at least a semblance of the famous British 'stiff upper lip', but now it seems entirely permissable to walk around with a wobbly one and very little self-restraint on the emotional front. But has all this openness really sorted many out or made them feel any less lonely? Or just more desperate-sounding and liable to push away that which we we might most seek even further?

One of the things which astonished me most about mobile phones when they became widespread is how many friends everyone suddenly seemed to have and whom they evidently couldn't live without speaking to at least several times a day! Not least when my own level of friends and frequency with which I talked on the phone with them remained roughly the same.

When all is said and done though, I have been no less guilty than anyone else of shocking levels of 'poor me' at various times in my life, much though I try to rise above it and often succeed, to the point I know it can be done, not least by a veritable youngster blessed with good health and reasonable sanity.

The painting at the top of this posting is by Coventry artist David Hale who has suffered from depression and alcoholism for many years. I consider it one of his most startling and poignant pieces of work.


Steve said...

I spent the first 30 years of my life single and "lonely". Bizarrely after a first disasterous relationship I spent another shorter period on my own again... and absolutely loved every moment. I'm with Quentin.

Nota Bene said...

I wonder if there's more loneliness, or just awareness of it, driven by the misconception that everyone else is having a great time? I empathise with Quentin

RB said...

I can't cope unless I get plenty of time alone - I start to fizz and eventually explode if continually surrounded by others, even those I love dearly. But I often wonder how I would cope if I was alone for very long spells - as some elderly people are.
But the oodles of friends on Facebook, lots of casual chitchat just isn't me. I love to spend (a limited amount) of time with a few treasured friends and it's fun to spent time occasionally with others but given the choice I would generally choose at least the same amount of time alone to balance it out.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Yes, I have learned to like my own company since my 20's Steve, if only that you can sometimes have too much of a good thing!

Ah yes Notabene - that old 'everyone else is at a party I haven't been invited to' feeling. Then one day the realisation dawns that most people are actually having a worse time of it than you and you are the lucky one!

RB, you work so hard as a mother and writer (and someone's partner as well), not to mention presumably finding time to earn a living and do the housework, I am amazed you find any time whatsoever to be by yourself! You must be jolly quick and efficient at everything you do!

Wisewebwoman said...

As you know, Laura, I am a gregarious loner but do now and again feel as if I am cast adrift in a world of my own making, isolated from the "norm" whatever that is.
I don't think, at this stage of my life, I could share it 24/7 with a partner. I am too set in my ways, too selfish to change.
I'm with Quentin too.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

'A gregarious loner' - what an excellent description WWW!